Schools nationwide are cutting bus service to account for a widespread shortage of bus drivers—and students are paying the price by missing school more often.
Those are the main takeaways from a report published this month from HopSkipDrive, a private school transportation provider. The report includes results from a nationally representative survey of school and district leaders, transportation directors, counselors, and other employees.
More than two-thirds of survey respondents said they see a link between driver staffing challenges and chronic absenteeism. Exactly half of respondents said they believe access to transportation and educational equity are linked in their district.
One anonymous respondent said special education students have the lowest attendance of any population in the district. “With the school bus driver shortage, if a route is not running, the students do not have a way to get to school,” the respondent said.
Students in Ohio’s Reynoldsburg district have had to learn remotely one or two days a week this year because staffing shortages forced bus service cuts. In Anchorage, Alaska, families get bus service for three weeks at a time, then miss out for six weeks as the routes rotate to other areas. Elsewhere, according to media reports, shortages have been responsible for students missing class or getting home from school late, athletic events getting canceled or rescheduled, and districts investing in expensive charter buses or rental vehicles to fill gaps.
Nearly 9 in 10 HopSkipDrive survey respondents said driver shortages have constrained their school or district’s operations this year. Three in 10 respondents said those constraints have been severe.
Why aren’t there enough drivers? There are a few reasons:
- Driver positions are frequently underpaid and undervalued compared with similar jobs with non-public institutions.
- Driving a bus full of young children with no other adults on board can be taxing and even dangerous, deterring people from applying.
- Working conditions have led drivers to strike (most recently, in places like Du Quoin, N.C.; Franklin County, Tenn.; Livingston Parish, La.; and Socorro, Texas.)
- Older drivers may be wary of being on the job while COVID-19 is still spreading.
- Community outbreaks of COVID, flu, and the RSV respiratory virus are causing further disruptions this fall.
Many districts have turned to asking teachers, cafeteria workers, principals, and even superintendents to fill driver gaps, sometimes for bonuses. The Nash County district in North Carolina is even considering requiring employees in a wide variety of academic, administrative, and clerical positions to obtain a bus driving license.